Adam Tinkle

Working at the experimental edge of non-fiction sound, my work combines narrative structures and audiocentric sensorial experiences, in a range of modes: on the theatrical stage, in radio/podcast, in combination with music in concerts and albums, and in myriad other genre-busting modes of multimedia art. Sometimes I work as a collaborating sound designer on such projects. But in my own individual work, I am most interested pushing at the formal limits of how documentary sound is approached – using the traditions of field recording and radio documentary as starting points, I ask: how and why sonic representations of the world can be captured, what shapes and purposes can those sounds be bent to, and how can listeners be engaged in new and unique ways?

In my recent piece, “School of Hard Equinox,” (an official selection of the 2021 Mimesis Documentary Festival at CU Boulder), I utilized binaural recordings I made under early pandemic to commemorate the intimate, quotidian dimensions of this historic moment and to explore the interaction of human and natural scales of time. This work exemplifies my approach to a kind of “cinema for the ears,”, pulled between the sensorial immersion of field recording practice and the narrativity of documentary, where I attempt to  sonically “show” (through the sequencing of quasi-ambiguous observational recordings) rather than tell (in spoken narration, as is more standard in radio and podcasts). My goal here was to set family life during lockdown against a backdrop of the non-anthropic continuity of weather and nature: what does it sound like when (according to the discourse of the time) “everything stopped,” yet, audibly and verifiably, life goes on?

A similar approach characterizes my work on Dawn Koras (see Kathmandu Projects).

My work in nonfiction has its roots in “A Mess of Things,” my theatrical solo performance that interweaves audio recordings of my grandfather with texts and songs in dialogue with the recordings. After concluding my touring and festival run of this piece, I have continued to create new works based upon the initial recordings, including a pair of sound sculptures and a handmade artists book that annotates and illustrates the performance’s full libretto (both detailed on my Installation & Sculpture page). From theatre to print to sculpture to binaural documentary and experimental music, my work has consistently sought alternative canvases for oral history and aural storytelling practices.

In this vein, I have also created “locative” nonfiction sound works, which, accessible through location-aware mobile apps that trigger sound files based on associated GPS regions, offers visitors to a particular site a kind of self-guided audio tour – a layer of sounds that augmented ordinary reality to add the possibility sonic immersion and storytelling to a visitor’s perambulation. I have collected the material for these projects through place-oriented oral histories, and then map short segments of those interviews onto spaces, rather than to a linear timeline. Adding sound design and carefully sculpting the multiple potential walking routes (which result in different narrative sequences for the soundwalk) has provided me with yet another arena to challenge and expand the range of what, where and how the medium of nonfiction sound can be: how (else) can sound convey enlightening and challenging content? What other forms can push at the limits of listening?

For a fuller account of my locative sound work, see this poster presented at the 2018 Oral History Association international conference:

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